Letters: The UK broadband network

How do we pay for a future-proof broadband network?

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Many people had expectations that the Digital Britain report by Lord Carter (30 January) would provide a clear way forward, but we are left with promises of more watching and assessing, which is frustrating for the millions of UK households who are missing out of the full capabilities of broadband.

With next-generation broadband being the hot topic for broadband Britain, the report seems to be backing a fibre-to-the-kerb solution at a cost of about £5bn. But the report falls short of recommending how funds should be made available to ensure a true, future-proof fibre network is rolled out.

The Universal Service Obligation (USO) looks set to be delivered by a mixture of first-generation broadband solutions, and while 2Mbps by 2012 is a step-up from dial-up, it's going to be outpaced very quickly by applications and changes in internet usage. As people embrace a digital content culture, we will be increasingly looking at homes with multiple devices using the broadband connection, which is when 10Mbps and faster connections come into their own.

If the report is intended to nudge the industry in the right direction, without public investment, this is very much a double-edged sword. Parts of the UK will have 50Mbps in 2009, and some 40 per cent of homes by 2012 will have the choice of 50Mbps from Virgin Media and similar speeds from BT, but the question still stands about how far the firms will go and whether their present investment plans can be implemented during a recession.

This report was an opportunity to ensure the UK had a clear path towards a future proof e-economy, but with the present proposals we are going to have campaigns every four or five years to resolve broadband speed/coverage issues.

Andrew Ferguson

Editor, Thinkbroadband.com, Epsom, Surrey

It should come as no surprise that the government wants broadband for all within a few years. How better to spy on our communications, social networks, and surfing habits. The only question is, will they make its use compulsory?

Andrew Calvert

Ruislip, Hillingdon

Let us criticise religion freely

In response to Johann Hari's article ("Why should I respect these oppressive religions?", 28 January), it is becoming increasingly difficult to criticise religion without being labelled right-wing, reactionary and pro-censorship (just for the record, I'm a 25-year-old pro-choice, anti-homophobia feminist).

I am constantly obliged to state that I am not racist simply because I view Islam with intense distaste for its institutionalised misogyny, or that I am not narrow-minded because I think Catholicism is responsible in large ways for overpopulation and the spread of HIV.

More and more I find myself constantly wondering why I am the one bending over backwards to accommodate institutions that would never extend a similar courtesy to me, and I am glad some journalists have the courage to voice my thoughts.

Although I agree that many people are capable of practising religion in an unobtrusive, open-minded manner, a much greater number seem to simply cherry-pick the parts of religion that can be warped to justify their own prejudices and hang-ups (then demand "respect" for their vitriol, which is backed up by no more than fairy tales).

Therefore, Johann Hari is completely right to state that baseless beliefs should have no place in vital arenas of national and international policy-making such as the UN, and is right to question why sharia law should be respected any more than, say, pagan law or leprechaun law.

Catherine Scott

Dunstable, Bedfordshire

Johann Hari's excellent and revealing article is surely a wake-up call to people of all faiths, or of none. That the United Nations' rapporteur on human rights, the person we have hitherto trusted to protect free speech and shame those who try to prevent it, has effectively been told to shut up about the abuses perpetrated upon the oppressed (that is, "women, gays, non-Muslims ... apostates", and, we might add, children and weak men) by religious bullies, should concern all who prize open and honest discourse. The Vatican and Christian fundamentalists apparently concur with the mullahs on the business of what is allowed to be spoken about religion doings, and what is not.

Free speech is, as Hari holds, an "equal, indivisible human right" vital to Christians, Jews, Muslims and apostates alike. When UN spokespeople are commanded to stay silent on the beating and beheading of those who question religious mores, on the destruction of schools that offer a future to their pupils, on the predatory antics of old men who would marry young children, and on those who would silence human rights campaigners with brute force, then the UN no longer speaks for the people.

A S Graham


Johann Hari's brilliant article on the attacks on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the right to freedom of speech is timely. We only have to remind ourselves from the recent inauguration that the foundation of the American Constitution is based on the secular state, the Rights of Man and freedom of expression.

Any religious extremism is the enemy of freedom of speech and thought and individual rights. It is the erosion of these freedoms through lobbying and pressure from religious fundamentalists that has been highlighted in this article.

It is the responsibility of the UN and individual governments to safeguard human rights and not acquiesce in their demise. They have failed us all by dismantling the UN rapporteur's independence on these issues.

John Gosden

Newmarket, Suffolk

Leave Obama's suits to his tailor

Howard Jacobson's "Get your tailoring right and you can set out to solve the world's problems" (24 January) starts with a petty attack on "Obama the beautiful. Obama the sonorous. Obama the Messiah", making pointless fun of how he apparently knots his tie, wears his shirt or has his suit tailored.

Later, Jacobson states, "Don't laugh. I attach immense significance to the tailoring of Messiahs." Why pour all this venom on a man who has been in office for only a few days, hardly enough to justify any sort of comment, much less form any judgement. The attack gives one the impression Mr Jacobson is concerned that the possibility now exists that shooting everything that moves will no longer be the official policy of the President of the United States.

He carries on with his charge to bear down on the signatories of a letter in The Guardian the previous week whom he describes as "sandal-wearers, banner wavers, professionally ashamed Jews". He takes this as an "example plucked at random" of demands that "Israel lose". The letter was written by distinguished academics on a subject of justified concern to many, and the interpretation is plain wrong and offensive.

Professor P P Anthony


Sterling crisis could have been avoided

It is good to see Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats leader, dipping his toe into the emotive waters of joining the euro (26 January). But I cannot agree with him in the establishment view that we were right not to join 10 years ago.

Of course it is the case that, for most of that period, the ECB interest rate was well below the Bank of England one, an argument that suits those who have us believe that interest rates are the only tool of economic and monetary policy. But if the UK had been a member, our weight is such that the ECB rate would almost certainly have been more in line with our own, and we would have had additional say in ECB policy.

Further, we would have been subject to the euro zone's financial disciplines, which would probably have prevented us from accumulating so much debt. But the clincher is this: the current sterling crisis could not possibly have happened if we had adopted the euro. The lesson of Iceland should be engraved on all our hearts.

Alan Pavelin

Chislehurst, Kent

That's simply daft about Darwin

James Neilson's letter, "What did Darwin really do for us?" (30 January) occupied more than 200 words of your valuable space. Yet a brief call to your science editor would have established that every sentence is an ignorant cliché. Presumably your policy is, "Everybody is entitled to their private opinions". But everybody is not entitled to their private facts. To take one example: Mr Neilson's statement that evolution contradicts the law of increasing entropy is an elementary misunderstanding of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It's a notorious schoolboy howler.

Ignorance is no crime. I am as ignorant of football as Mr Neilson is of science. But if I were to write a letter pontificating about football, I hope you wouldn't publish it.

Richard Dawkins


It was enlightening to read James Neilson's arguments against evolutionary theory. I find it difficult to rebut his astonishing revelation that Darwin's original theory has adapted over time. It was always my understanding that scientific theories should change to encompass new observations, but clearly we should instead receive one theory and blindly accept it without paying attention to the staggering amount of evidence under our noses.

Entropy, as he rightly points out, increases in any system over time, which makes it remarkable that he managed to write his letter, since a highly disordered mess of water, oxygen and carbon dioxide molecules have somehow managed to organise themselves into the sugar in his food and given him the energy to pick up a pen.

His missive finishes with an extraordinary insight into the dark underbelly of youth crime. It amazes me that the causal link between Darwin's theories and knife crime has not been spotted before.

Andrew T Barnes


James Neilson thinks Darwin's theory has led young people to get involved in gangs and carry knives because of the need to survive, and is responsible for much of modern society's ills.

Presumably, someone other than Darwin, or something other than the theory of evolution, is to blame for the millennia of violence that preceded the Origin of the Species. I await, with keen interest, to read Mr Neilson's revelations on who or what was to blame for society's ills in those utopian pre-Darwin days, marked as they were by death and persecution of millions due to a succession of hate-filled pogroms, inquisitions, crusades, witch-burnings and the like.

Alistair McBay

National Secular Society London WC1

Times are a-changin'

Bob Dylan, having only once previously provided permission for lyric alteration, has finally allowed his famed protest song "Blowin' in the Wind" to be used in an advert for the Co-Op ("Dylan co-operates with TV advert", 28 January). How many rows must a man walk down, before he can find the milk?

Richard O Smith


Out of tune

Elderly socialists such as myself have long treasured Ken Clarke as the only civilised and human face of modern Conservatism, relishing his Europhilia, his scorn for the wilder excesses of Thatcherism and opposition to the Iraq war. It was thus intolerable to read Janet Street-Porter's culturally myopic characterisation of him as "a sucker for trad jazz" (Opinion, 21 January) when his devotion is clearly to Charlie Mingus, Thelonious Monk and, above all, hard-bop tenor saxophonists. Would one label a Wagner fan a "lover of light opera"?

Dr Roger Magraw

Department of History, University of Warwick

Thanks, and farewell

I have just had a letter from the managing director of my insurance company telling me about an endorsement to the travel policy I had just renewed. I quote: "The bonus cover provides you with an accidental death benefit of £5,000 as a result of an accident that occurs at any time within the UK, at no extra cost, as our way of saying thank you." Strange way of thanking your customers by offering them £5,000 if they die by accident. A cynic would say it would probably cost them less.

Anne Green


Lost in mists of time

Archie Bland writes: "While predictions of local conditions for particular days, months or even years are often unreliable, scientists have become very good at making long-term global projections ..." ("Heavy weather: What climate change really means for Britain", 26 January). Er, how do they know they are good? If they can't tell me the weather in Bristol next Thursday with any certainty, how can they be so certain about the climate in 2050?

Peter Hazelwood



I note in the Health & Well-being section (27 January) the reference to "folk lore" regarding the size of a man's foot is indicative of a somewhat more discreet measurement. It is not folk lore at all but an absolute fact: large feet mean large shoes.

Steve Hayes


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